31 March 2015
Business and Government Unite to Tackle the Asia Threat Landscape
This year's Global Security Asia conference saw new technology and the commercial services sector playing an ever-expanding role in countering terrorism threats and tackling a variety of biological and chemical spillages and hazards.
National security has never been a bigger issue, with the commercial sector increasingly playing a role in supplying and supporting those regional and international bodies dedicated to countering threats to the general populace. With this in mind, the sixth iteration of Global Security Asia was a notably timely affair, with representatives of the world's security industries all gathered in Singapore's Suntec Exhibition and for this biennial event. Predictably, this latest conference was dominated by one issue – growing concern over the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and, in particular, the emergence of ISIS.
Taking as its theme The New Asia Threat Landscape, the conference element of the event was chaired by Dr Rohan Gunaratna, Professor of Security Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. Addressing the current state of global concerns, he said: "ISIS and other similar groups represent credible and wide-reaching threats to global security. We need to properly assess the impact of such threats in Asia, including those stemming from chemical, biological and radiological attacks [CBR]."
While the spectre of ISIS clearly loomed over the conference, there was an overall focus on dealing with the CBR threat, regardless of source. The commonly used terms of CBR, CBRN and CBRNe are roughly interchangeable, referring to threats from chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear sources, and from increasingly sophisticated or improvised explosives. The CBRN incidents in question can be either accidental (eg, a chemical spill – globally, some 8,000 accidents involving toxic chemicals need to be dealt with every year) or intentional.
The host nation was particularly keen to highlight its own CBR concerns. Emphasising Singapore's particular challenges, Colonel Francis Ng of the country's Civil Defence Force said: "We are not only one of the biggest sea and air points of entry in the world, we are also a very densely-populated country with a large industrial base. An incident anywhere could have a major impact.
"Singapore long ago recognised its need for a first class CBR capability, beginning with the hazmat [hazardous materials] resources needed to meet the requirements of the petrochemical industry. This was upgraded to CBR level after the 1995 Tokyo subway gas attacks, and upgraded again after 9/11. Today, all vehicles carrying hazardous materials are tracked nationwide and we have a remote disable capability if necessary. Among the future capabilities we are looking at are chemical detection drones, new fast response vehicles and better 3D modelling of CBR incidents."
A country with similar CBR concerns is Italy. Explaining the country's specific issues, Dr Stefano Miorotti, General Manager of Cristanini SpA, a Verona-based decontamination specialist, said: "Italy is very close to Africa and has a long coastline, so it has major concerns about smuggling, piracy, and also of war materials being dredged up by fishing boats. In order to prevent such incidents, Italy's policy is that decontamination must be carried out on board a suspect vessel rather than in port. To meet this requirement, Cristanini has developed a low-cost, low manpower, modular decontamination unit that can be deployed quickly."
Addressing likely future developments in the CBR field, Paul Lilly, Senior Program Manager with Lockheed Martin, a US-based defence contractor, said: "While we have to prepare for a major CBR incident, it is industrial accidents and drug smuggling that affect us on a daily basis. We are developing new sensors that will better address these concerns, such as real-time DNA sequencing, rapid chemical detection and identification via the use of graphenes. We also looking at the real-time data analysis of public domain information in order to forecast possible incidents, technology that is already about 90% accurate."
One company particularly focussed on biological threats is BioFire Defense, a Utah-based biosurveillance specialist. Addressing a seminar at GSA, Matt Scullion, company's US Sales Manager, outlined how its technology had helped diagnose the Ebola virus, as well as the part it had played in preventing the spread of the disease in the US last year.
He said: "Our system allows an untrained person to collect samples in just two minutes per patient. The sample can then be tested for 102 possible conditions in just 60 minutes, as opposed to two to three days under current methods. In the near future, we are planning to add more than three dozen additional conditions into our testing capability."
Terrorist and CBR threats aside, the need to combat smuggling was also a compelling issue for many attendees. According to a recent United Nations report, in the Asia-Pacific region, criminal syndicates make US$31.3 billion a year from drug smuggling alone, with another US$30 billion stemming from counterfeit goods and US$26 billion from smuggling animals, illegal logging, human trafficking and other such activities.
According to Collin Singer, Managing Director of Wagtail International, a UK provide of canine security services, the dog is the smuggler's worst nightmare. He said: "Dogs are far more effective than humans at detecting contraband, and more mobile than machines. Apart from the more common contraband – such as drugs, live animals, organic products, tobacco, firearms, and illegal immigrants – dogs can even be trained to detect large quantities of money – even by currency. This is what our dogs are doing in Ireland. Dogs can be trained to detect a new scent in as little as two days.
"The UK Border Force has now deployed 40 dogs at French ports in order to stop human smuggling. One dog can search as many as 100 vehicles in 45 minutes. These dogs have successfully detected illegal immigrants after all other detection methods have failed."
In terms of more mechanical solution, Gord Loney, Vice-president of the Senstar Corporation, a Canadian security firm, was keen to address a number of common misconceptions. He said: "Cameras do not provide total security. Outdoor sensors will create nuisance alarms, while a well-designed system will, at best, only minimise such alarms, but you cannot do away with human guards. A properly thought-out and effective premises intruder detection system, though, requires a balance of all three."
According to Loney, there are now some nine different types of outdoor sensors, and about 150 different systems available on the market. At present, Senstar provides a range of such sensors to more than 80 countries.
As well as upgrades to sensors, another stalwart of the security sector to benefit from a 21st century makeover was the metal detector. Outlining their new capabilities, Simon Lyster, Managing Director of US-based Adani Systems, said: "In recent years, full body scanners have been introduced. We have developed one such system, which utilises low-dose radiation, yet is able to detect matter hidden within a human body, such as drugs or explosives. This product is now being used at airports and high security installations and we have developed versions to scan baggage and vehicles.
Global Security Asia was held at Singapore's Suntec Exhibition and Convention Centre from 3-5 March 2015. The event attracted 186 exhibitors from 32 countries.
Ronald Hee, Special Correspondent, Singapore